“I’m Sorry, What?”

lost-and-confused-imageWithin every profession, service industry, and organization, there are secret languages understood only by its patrons. For example, walk into a Starbucks and listen to the customers order their favorite drink. You are likely to hear a combination of words and phrases that would lead you to believe aliens had landed from the far side of the moon. My usual Starbucks order sounds like this, “I’ll have a venti bold with no room.” What I am saying to the barista is this, “I will have your largest and strongest coffee, and by the way, I do not need room for cream.” Businesses have created environments that require consumers to learn a language specific to the product they wish to consume. This may or may not be intentional. What they are saying is this, “If you want to be part of our group you need to learn our language.” Sound unfair? Before you answer, think about the church?

Before we blame businesses for requiring us to learn a foreign language, let’s look at how the Christian church is at times guilty of the same practice. I believe most would agree that Christians have a specific lingo and vernacular that we are comfortable with. We use phrases and words that may leave the first-time guest in our services scratching their head and asking, “What are they talking about?” We use words such as advent, apostle, disciple, rapture, righteous, sanctification, elect, trinity, covenant, redemption, and salvation much like we would car, home, cheeseburger, chair, or grass. Phrases such as “washed in the blood”, “give your heart to Jesus”, “profession of faith”, and “walk down the aisle” roll off our church-influenced tongues the same as “turn off the light”, “answer the phone”, and “wash the car.” Think of the questions that must run through the mind of the person who has never been in church before: “Is that going to hurt?”, “You’re asking me to do what?”, “Is that legal?” I may be exaggerating a bit, but I think you get my point.

As a pastor, I believe the church has a responsibility to remove barriers that keep individuals with no personal relationship with Jesus Christ from coming to know Him. Barriers such as personal preferences, fear, and past hurt are hard enough to overcome without imposing a new language for which Rosetta Stone hasn’t even written software yet. I am becoming increasingly aware the guests in our worship services have no idea what we are talking about at times. What should we do? First, it is important to acknowledge the fact that we are guilty of speaking “church.” Second, I believe every ministry leader should ask this question when communicating: “Will the words I have written and spoken be clearly understood by someone who has never been in church before?” We owe it to the first-time guest, the seeker, and the believer desiring to serve the Lord our commitment to remove the barriers that would hinder them – including our church language.

Missional Monday: The Three Lessons Learned from the Missions Work of First Baptist Church Perry in 2018

mmWe are often reminded in God’s Word of our call to care for and serve others in the name of Jesus Christ. We are reminded to consider others more than ourselves. This community care was modeled for us in the book of Acts. At First Baptist Church, community ministry is becoming a high priority and the people are demonstrating compassion and generosity. When presented with a ministry opportunity, they rise to the occasion. I challenged our people to invest more in current ministries and take on new challenges. I have not been disappointed. As a result, our community has been the beneficiary of their love, care, and concern.

2018 was a year of firsts for First Baptist. It was a year of wading back into the community ministry pool. Our Back to School Bash and Community Thanksgiving Brunch were new ministries for us this year. The results of these two events were beyond my expectations. We have had a busy and fulfilling 2018. We were able to touch our community in many ways. From mentoring school children to helping families stay in their home, we put others first. From serving as a warming shelter to the homeless to helping sister churches prepare for and recover from Hurricane Michael, we put others first. From providing school supplies for children heading back to school to providing a Thanksgiving meal for our community, we put others first. From giving and going to meet the needs of those in Guatemala to giving the most basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, we put others first. We have used opportunities such as these to foster relationships and build bridges for gospel conversations. Through it all, I have learned three lessons this year I want to share with you.

Lesson #1. It’s not about us. I believe you must be willing to be taken advantage of in order to reach your community. I have often shared with our people that we must give to our community with no expectation of return. Many find this troubling. There are some who believe that every person we help in community ministry should be in church with us the following Sunday. That would be nice. The hard truth is that most of those we serve in our community will not attend First Baptist Church for various reason. If our willingness to serve is taken advantage of, that must be okay with us. In the course of this year’s ministry opportunities, has our giving been taken advantage of? I know it has. In the course of this year’s ministry opportunities, have we suffered offense through the actions and responses of those we were helping? Absolutely. In the end, I have learned that we are only responsible for “why” we do ministry. If we give and serve with the sole motive of being obedient to Christ and being a blessing to our community, we have nothing to worry about. The possibility that we may be taken advantage of is real, but it should not stop us from continuing to serve.

Lesson #2: There is tremendous value in planning.  Our missions and ministries leaders understand planning and preparedness. This past year I have sat with ministry leaders and our missions team for countless hours ensuring the details were covered in our missions work. Some ministry opportunities require very little planning. Others require a great deal of planning and preparation. It is counterproductive to arrive at a ministry site and not have the food, supplies, and volunteers, needed to serve others effectively and efficiently. While we understand the need for flexibility in ministry, that does not negate the need for prior planning preparedness. Being prepared shows the community you care. Being prepared demonstrates to the recipients of your ministry they were thought of in advance. We were busy this past year with meaningful missions work and I expect the coming year to be filled with even more. I have learned that without proper planning we would have been be far less effective.

Lesson #3: Together we are better.  2018 was a year of partnerships. As Southern Baptists, working together is a familiar concept. I wholeheartedly believe we can do more together than we can do alone. We were able to partner with our county to provide cold weather shelter to our homeless population. We began a partnership with our local primary school to provide mentors for children and encouragement for staff. We partnered with our local service agencies and school district to offer a family-friendly back to school event. Tragedy opened the door for meaningful partnerships. In October, Hurricane Michael devastated the panhandle of Florida. In the aftermath, we made the decision to come alongside two congregations and provide help in the form of finances, chain saw and debris removal teams, and construction/renovation teams. Our Florida Baptist Convention was crucial in helping us connect with these congregations. There is no way we could have accomplished any of this on our own. We need others to fulfill our purpose and vision in our community. We desire to come alongside others to help them fulfill theirs as well. I am excited to see what 2019 holds for First Baptist Church.

The Lost Art of Friendship

Modern mobile devicesAristotle once said, “The desire for friendship comes quickly; friendship does not”. Within each one is the desire to share life with others. There is a desire for intimacy. There is a desire to have people in our lives with whom we connect on a deeper level. There is a desire to be part of a community that shares the same beliefs, values, and interests. Building healthy and meaningful friendships requires work. They do not just “happen”. It is real work. When I speak of work, I am not saying that making friends and building lasting friendships is a job. I am saying that it requires giving up time in our already busy lives to the pursuit of friendship.

I believe we structure ourselves out of the opportunity to build authentic and lasting friendships. We learn to make friends at an early age. Remember as a child the times of simply “hanging out” together. Kids would spend the night at each other’s homes where they would get to know the family and vice versa. Tree houses, sandlot football, bicycle riding, fishing, and camping were not just ways to pass the time but were avenues to strengthening and deepening friendships. We don’t see too much of this anymore.

Social media has taken the world by storm. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and other social media sites are growing in popularity among all ages. The very essence of platforms such as these sites is that of friendship and connection. They offer an avenue of keeping up with established friendships and for the establishment of new ones. These sites allow for the constant and immediate answer to the questions, “Where are you and what are you doing?” Having “friends” on Facebook and “followers” on Twitter assists in connection. The only question that must be answered is this one: Are these social networking sites capable of reproducing authentic and genuine friendships in the lives of people? I would have to say no.

Aristotle also said, “Close friends share salt together”. I believe there is a great deal of truth in his statement. Close friends share meals together. They sit across from each other and share time, struggles, victories, tears, family, hurts, and laughs.  I am not saying that social networking sites are bad. I am not saying that they do not have a purpose. I blog, use Facebook and Twitter too. Is social networking eroding the fabric of genuine authentic friendships? I would say. Social networking sites promote social connectivity. This is not the same as intimate friendships. I see this erosion, or the slow wearing away, of authentic friendships taking place when the preference becomes a computer or smartphone screen instead of a face-to-face conversation. This erosion can be seen when we would rather engage in online chatting instead of in-person communication. Although we hail the progress of technology today, and there have been some good advancements, I believe that making it possible to communicate and never have to sit down face-to-face separates us as people. Instead of saying, “Let’s get together for lunch and talk”, we say “I’ll email you.” Instead of picking up the phone and phone and talking to someone, we text them. If we are not careful, we will forget how to relate to people all together.

Again, let me say that I am not against social networking, or technology for that matter. I believe strongly in the value of face-to-face communication. We should make every effort to maintain personal contact with one another. It is invaluable.

 

Missional Monday – Missionaries, not Fundraisers

Dr5QApZWoAAFRoPWith the Thanksgiving holiday over, our attention turns to Christmas. Among the many things the Christmas season brings, one is the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The LMCO is Southern Baptists’ annual missions offering which supports the work of our missionaries on the international field. This offering aids in keeping our missionaries on the field. They continue to disciple new believers, teach, preach the Gospel, plant churches, and build partnerships within their people groups without the burden of coming state-side to fund raise. Every single dollar collected directly supports our missionaries and the work in their respective countries and among their respective people groups. This offering is especially close to my heart. Since 1996, I have been a part of seven International Mission Board Short-Term Work and Witness Teams, serving alongside three missionary couples in Honduras and Nicaragua. I have witnessed how the money collected through the LMCO is used in every day ministry. Our missionaries are very mindful of the sacrifices believers back home make to support their calling and work. Not only are they mindful of the sacrifices made, they are incredible stewards of the gifts. Our missionaries stretch every penny knowing that someone they have likely never met, in a church they have likely never been to, decided to give in order to help connect the lost to the Gospel through their efforts. Having witnessed this first hand, I can wholeheartedly champion the cause for their support and advocate for the continuance of God’s work around the world through these selfless individuals.

For 2018, the International Mission Board has selected Every Church. Every Nation. as the theme for this offering. This is a powerful and challenging. It is not possible for every person to serve on the foreign mission field. In addition to those who would go, there are more needed to pray and give. The LMCO allows churches of all sizes, styles, and structures to be involved in funding our missionaries. Because of our cooperative effort, we are all equal partners in this endeavor. We are called to every nation. There is no one, regardless of their remoteness, that does not deserve to hear the good news of the Gospel. The Gospel must reach them in time. The LMCO allows our resources to be pooled in order to reach every people group from every nation. It is a monumental task. It is a non-negotiable commission. It is a gospel-driven responsibility we all have. Together, we can.

Pray. Give. Go.

I’m Looking for a Church Home

im-newWe lived in Graceville, Florida while I attended the Florida Baptist Theological College (now the Baptist College of Florida). Graceville is a mostly farming community that boasts a Baptist college. After moving into our apartment and getting ourselves settled, we started the process of looking for a church home. Since I was a college student in a small town with a Baptist college, I figured finding a church to belong to would be easy. I was wrong. We visited four or five different churches. We were new somewhere every Sunday. It was tiring and sometimes frustrating. We finally joined Holmes Creek Baptist Church in Chipley and enjoyed our time there.

I think back to that time in our family’s life and am thankful. I am thankful that we found a church home to serve in and grow as a young family. I am also thankful for what I learned in that search process. If you have ever been through the process of finding a church to call home, you know how tiring and stressful it can be. As a pastor, I am sympathetic to those seeking a church home. I understand their plight. When I see a guest at church and they declare on a communication care they are actively seeking a church home, I know what they are going through.

Think about the process for a minute. You wake up on Sunday morning and get your family dressed and ready to attend a worship service at a church that is totally unfamiliar. Perhaps you were able to find a campus map on their website. Perhaps not. Perhaps there are signs directing you where to go to find restrooms, the nursery, and the information desk. Perhaps not. It is likely you won’t know anyone. Introductions are made, and you tell the story of what brought you to the community. You answer questions about your family, your job, and your past churches. You feel like you’re in a Senate confirmation hearing.

Once the service begins, you are officially welcomed from the pulpit. Something is likely said about first-time guests. Hopefully you are NOT asked to awkwardly stand so everyone can make sure you know you’re the new person. You’re likely told what’s happening at the church through some system of announcement. You quickly discern what is important to this church and whether you will fit in or not. During the worship service and sermon, you’re asking the Lord for a peace about whether you should return or not. As you leave, you likely meet some new people who may ask you the same questions you were asked about an hour or so ago. You leave thinking one of two things: “That wasn’t so bad” or “Thank God that’s over.” As you drive home or during lunch somewhere, several critical questions run through your mind.

  1.  Is this the place the Lord would have me or is this the place I want to be?
  2. Does this church share my biblical beliefs and theological convictions?
  3. Can the spiritual walk of my family be deepened by attending here?
  4. Will this church provide for me the opportunity to utilize my spiritual gifts?
  5. Can I positively impact this church, so its mission and purpose will be fulfilled?

Stress enters when the above process is repeated multiple times in multiple churches. It can be very tiring being “new” in church every week. It can be tiring investing time and energy, doing your homework, and seeing no immediate result. For these reasons I believe that searching for a church home can be one of the toughest and most important jobs that a believer will do.

For many, this process is foreign because they have never had to work this process. Some people are members of the same church their entire life. As our society changes and becomes more transient, this process, or one similar will become common place. Pray for those who are looking for a church home. As members of the body of Christ, we each have a responsibility to make this process a little easier for them. Be intentional in making this process a little less daunting and stressful for those families looking to connect.

 

The Value of Being Alone Before God

lonely-man-sitting-on-beach-3264x2176_62922There is a common fear shared by many today. That fear – being alone. We are social creatures. We desire, if not crave, interaction with others. It is the reason social media has such a dominant presence in our world today. No one wants to feel as if they are without the support, love, and the companionship of others. I can remember times in my life when I felt completely alone. Growing up, we moved around frequently. Prior to the seventh grade, I had attended 13 different schools. I was always the new kid in class. My earliest memory of being alone was standing in front of a classroom full of students who had known each other for years, as the teacher had me stand at the front of class. I can remember hearing that very familiar statement, “Class, I would like to introduce you to our new student.” All alone.

Although being alone is not the preferred choice of many, there are times when it is an absolute necessity. We live in a fast-paced world. Often our jobs require us to spend a lot of time on the phone, attending meetings, sitting in front of a computer, and traveling. Often our family responsibilities require us to attend school functions, sporting events, and spend many hours helping with homework. It is even possible to get so wrapped up in our church responsibilities that we miss the One we’re serving. It is extremely difficult to hear from God in the middle of all this activity. We must intentionally carve time out of our schedules and get alone with the Creator of the universe. Significant things happen when we get alone with God. We find this modeled for us in Scripture.

In Exodus 1, alone with God, the Hebrew midwives risked their lives by listening to God’s command to spare all male children, one of whom was Moses.

In Lamentations, Jeremiah, alone with God, pleaded for the salvation of an entire nation.

In Nehemiah 1, alone with God, the burden to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem was birthed in Nehemiah’s heart.

In Daniel 2, alone with God, the meaning of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was revealed.

Alone with God, in prison, Paul wrote his letters to the churches at Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and to Philemon encouraging them to hold fast to Jesus Christ despite all opposition.

 In the Garden of Gethsemane, alone with God, Jesus prayed the cup of suffering would pass if it were the Father’s will. It was not. Jesus went to the cross and died for the sins of mankind.

In Revelation, alone with God on the island of Patmos, John received a vivid and terrifying vision from Christ Himself detailing the execution of God’s judgment.

Being alone with God is an individual choice. It is a passion we choose to pursue. It is in the alone times we experience true intimacy with God. Alone with God, we lift our petitions to Him in with a certainty that He will hear. Alone with God, we see His Word come alive in our careful and determined study. Alone with God, the plans and purposes He has for us are revealed as He speaks to our hearts. Alone with God, we feel the conviction of the sin that has grieved His heart. Alone with God, we feel the calm assurance that, regardless of outside conditions, He has control of the inside. Alone with God, our spirits are refreshed and encouraged. I can’t think of a better place for the child of God to be.

 

Missional Monday – Voices

mmI am thankful for the many voices, resources, institutions, and ministries that are actively assisting churches today in living out a missional lifestyle. Our communities, cities, and states are ever-evolving. For that reason it is critical that the local church be the missionary for the gospel in their given field. I hope this collection of thinkers and ministries will further challenge you to live a missional lifestyle. They have certainly challenged me.

Read: When Missions Shapes the Mission; You and Your Church Can Reach the World by David Horner. Born out of a research study of evangelical churches and their commitment to making Christ known worldwide, Horner makes an impassioned plea to place the biblical missions mandate at the center of the church’s life. He offers theological, practical, and personal implications of missions shaping the overall mission of the church. This book has made an impact on our missions team who worked through it this year.

Follow: Mark Clifton. Mark is the Director of Church Replanting at the North American Mission Board author of the outstanding replant book, Reclaiming Glory; Revitalizing Dying Churches. His passion and concern for seeing dying churches live again through replanting and revitalization is very much needed today. His experience in replanting and revitalization makes his voice worth listening to. Follow him on Twitter – @johnmarkclifton

Meet: Heifer International. Their purpose is to “empower families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity”. Heifer brings sustainable agriculture and commerce to communities with a long history of poverty. This happens through the provision of farm animals that provide both food and reliable income in the form of agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey that can be traded or sold at market. Families in turn pass on farm animals to other communities who have similar need. This sustainable income brings opportunities for building school and funding small businesses. Follow them on Twitter – @Heifer

FYI: According to NAMB research in 2017, more than half of all churches started by Southern Baptists each year identify as ethic or multiethnic.